Have you lost confidence at work after maternity leave?

If you have lost confidence on maternity leave or after returning to work, you’re not alone. Taking an extended break from work for any reason can result in a loss of confidence in both men and women. But why does it happen, and what can you do about it?

You have dropped your child off at nursery and your commute to work is clear. You are feeling excited about being back at work, you’ve missed your colleagues and you’re happy to be feeding that other part of your identity that craves time to be you and do what you do well. But you have this overwhelming feeling that you won’t be up to your role anymore. That you have forgotten what to do and will let your colleagues and clients down by not performing as well as you did before your maternity leave. You’ve lost confidence.

If this is you, you’re not alone. A report by Vodafone found that feeling you’ve lost confidence was common when returning after a career break, although it impacts women significantly more than men, with 42% of women experiencing a lost confidence after returning from a break compared to 24% of men.

So why does this happen? You’re the same person you were before you went on leave. In fact you have strengthened a number of your skills through caring for your child while on leave. Caring significantly boosts a number of skills that are very useful in the workplace, in particular:

Mother handing baby over to nursery worker
  • Efficiency
  • Prioritising
  • Teamwork
  • Anticipating needs
  • Project management skills
  • Collaboration
  • Resilience

Why have you lost confidence after a break from work?

Our skills become rusty

It’s not uncommon when we don’t use any skills for a while that we feel a bit rusty when we start to use them again. The ‘conscious competence’ model of skill development can be helpful here. When we are at the peak of our skill development, we find it so easy to use the skill we use it unconsciously. We don’t have to think too hard about what we’re doing and find it comes very naturally. When we come back to using a skill we haven’t used for a while, we often have to pay closer attention to what we are doing and concentrate harder – consciously pay attention to what we’re doing. This is more tiring and can make us feel less confident. With practice though, our skill competence will develop again until we feel we can use it with ease.

We forget our successes

Part of developing confidence is about experiencing success. When we’ve been out of the workplace for a while and feel like we’ve lost confidence, we often can’t recall any recent examples of success at work. To protect us, our brains are designed to be on the lookout for danger and potential threats. Today, these can come in the form of making mistakes or failing at a task. As a result, we can have a tendency to pay more attention to mistakes or problems and forget about our successes. 

Change in identity

Becoming a mother is most likely the biggest change in identity we have undergone since adolescence. In fact, the term ‘matrescence’ has been coined to describe the emotional, physical and social transition to motherhood. Quite simply, we’re not the same person we were before we became a mother and this can make us feel less confident. This can be particularly tricky if our identity and self esteem before becoming a mother was very strongly linked to our role. It’s not uncommon in striving to give everything at home and work to feel like you’re doing a good enough job in either, which can cause lost confidence. 

A woman walking towards an office looking like she has lost confidence
42% women reported lost confidence when returning to work after a break

Loss of support

Having a strong support network that allows us to fail and still be unconditionally loved and accepted is key to feeling confident in life. Maternity leave often takes us out of our existing support network as we move from spending our time in a busy and thriving work and social life to spending a large amount of time at home with a small baby. This can be isolating and make us feel lonely. We need to rebuild our support network while on leave and these people often become very important to us in our new life as a parent. When we return to work, we need to rebuild our work support network again, which can feel hard if we are working reduced hours or working from home for the majority of our week.

So how can we remedy this?

How to boost lost confidence for your return to work?

Here are my top tips to help boost your lost confidence for your return to work:

1. Don’t expect to return at 100%

    It takes a while to reach the level we were working at before we went on maternity leave. Be kind to yourself and slowly build back up to working at full capacity.

    2. Expect a range of experiences when return 

      We had good and bad days before we went on leave and we will have good and bad days after we return. Keep a list where you can record all the things that have gone well to refer to when you’re having a bad day.

        3. Visualise your days going well

        By visualising things going well, they are more likely to go well. This is a socio-psychological phenomenon called a ‘self fulfilling prophecy’ where our beliefs and expectations influence our behavior at the subconscious level. By taking a positive view of the future, by focusing on things going well we are more likely to make choices that lead to success, which in turn can help boost our confidence.

        4. Focus on what you can control

          By focusing our thoughts and actions on things we can control or influence we feel more empowered and confident in our lives. Try not to spend time worrying about things you have no control over.

          5. Rebuild your support network

            Having others to share emotions with and support us is really important, whether in person or virtually. It’s good to get support from a variety of people in different areas of your life – from work to old pre-parent friends, to people with similar interests and friends you’ve made as a parent.

            6. Redefine success and celebrate small wins

              There should be lots of opportunities to celebrate small wins as a new mum, but compared to things we used to celebrate as successes before children they often don’t feel very significant! Thinking about what success means to you now can help you feel more confident in your achievements.

              7. Remember to say ‘no’

                A good way to prevent feeling and becoming overwhelmed by things is not to feel that you have to do everything that comes your way, whether at work or at home. Preventing burnout and overwhelm helps us to feel more confident in our work and home life.

                8. Take stock of skills and strengths and how these have been boosted by caring

                  As mentioned above, caring significantly boosts a number of skills that are very useful in the workplace. Spend a few minutes reflecting on how caring has boosted your skills.

                  9. Focus on the impact you have at work

                    When we have a busy work and home life, and feel like we are constantly on the go, we can feel that we aren’t doing as much as we used to either at work or at home. Rather than focusing on the quantity or number of things we do compared to before, focusing on the impact we have can boost lost confidence. So what is it that you do at work or home that has a positive impact on your colleagues or friends/partner?

                    10. Aim for good enough

                      Aiming for perfection is a sure way to feel like we aren’t meeting the mark at either home or work. Setting realistic expectations about what we can achieve at work and home, and aiming for good enough, will boost our confidence in our ability to manage our work and home lives.

                      Let me know what has worked for you. And if you’re still feeling you’ve lost confidence, get in touch today to see how The Maternity Coach can support you to feel more confident in your return to work.

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